Although most Americans know that a native people lived on this continent prior to the European takeover, the majority has not taken the time to study their history. That is sad considering it was our ancestors who took advantage of this innocent people for territory expansion and other insignificant reasons. Similar injustices have also taken place on the island continent of Australia. And although a country can not change the mistakes of the past, the least we can do is respect the indigenous people of the world and learn their history. If we do this, our lives will be enriched with knowledge that will positively affect the way we treat people in the future. I chose to parallel two groups of Aboriginal people from different parts of the Earth: the Native American and the Australian Aborigine. It is fascinating that these geo-graphically distant people share a similar history and similar characteristics.
The first Australians were the Aborigines. Aboriginal folklore claims that the Aborigines were always in Australia, but most scientists do not subscribe to the lore. Anthropologists believe that the Aborigines migrated from Southeast Asia at least 40,000 years ago, probably during a period when low sea levels permitted the simplest forms of land and water travel. The subsequent rise in sea level made Tasmania an Island and caused a cultural and physical separation from the main land (Australian Aborgine). It is fascinating that the American Indians are also from Asian descent. Native Americans physically favor the Asian people, and it is a widely accepted belief that they migrated from Asia during the Ice Age. The only possible route of travel was the Bering Land Bridge that is believed to have joined present day Alaska with Siberia. The Bering Land Bridge was also submerged with water afterwards, isolating them from their homeland (Native American Page 1).
Both native cultures were social people and relied on the basic hunter-gatherer concept to survive. The Aborigines hunted kangaroo and other game animals while the Native Americans generally hunted buffalo. Both cultures harvested and dispersed selected seeds to supplement their food stores in the winter and engaged in long distance trading. Many of the Native American tribes would gather together every year to celebrate religious ceremonies and to trade. And long distance travel is the only explanation for cross continental tribes using the same tools and irrigation techniques in Australia.
By the time of the first notable European settlement in both countries (1788 in Australia and 1500s in America), the Aboriginal people had developed cultural traits and ecological knowledge that showed an impressive adaptation to their respective environments (Australian Aborigine). The total Native Australian population at the time was between 300,000 and 100,000, and the total Native American population at the time of European settlement was large as well (Encyclopedia Brittannica). Unfortunately, these proud cultures would experience a dramatic decline in population because of the white settlers on both continents. The declines resulted from the introduction of diseases for which the natives had little or no acquired immunity; social and cultural disruptions; brutal mistreatment; and reprisals for acts of organized resistance. By the 1920s, the Aboriginal and Native American population had dropped dramatically. The effects of this unfair treatment can still be seen today in both continents in terms of social and economic disadvantage. Unemployment rates, family income levels, welfare dependence, infant mortality rates, and average life expectancy fare badly in comparison with the populations as a whole( Native American, page five).
The Native American and Aboriginal Australian cultures are very interesting. Their history is a lesson teaching us how not to treat people in the future. Both cultures have shown immeasurable strength as a people, withstanding prejudice for over a thousand years and still striving for equality (especially in Australia). They deserve our pride because we tried to take theirs but failed.
Encyclopia Brittannica Online
Articles – Native Americans
Australia, History of